Reviewer: Charity Bishop
I'm not sure what to think of this film. On one hand, certain elements of it are done very well, but on the other, at times it seems a bit too cheesy for its own good. What I'm left with is a movie I wanted to like more than I did.
The Great Wizard "Oz" (James Franco) is as known for his cheap magic tricks as he is for wooing pretty girls. This time around, though, he's given away one music box too many and is chased out of the circus by the strong man. Up, up, and away he goes into the clouds -- right into the oncoming path of a tornado, which sends him sweeping into the land of Oz. The first person he meets after his undignified landing is Theodora (Mila Kunis), who believes he is the wizard expected to fulfill an ancient prophecy about defeating an evil witch. It doesn't take her long to be won over to his charms and sweep him off to the Emerald City, to meet her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz). Oz is delighted to accept the kingship and the piles of gold that come along with it... until he finds out that before he can be crowned, he must defeat an evil witch. Emboldened by the cheering expectations of the masses, Oz sets out with his flying monkey servant to defeat the witch (Michelle Williams), and learns a few things along the way.
My emotions waffled back and forth when watching this film. The first ten minutes are sheer magnificence, but once we land in Oz, either the choice of how the world was designed (it looks too fake for my taste) or how the rest of the script plays out had me cringing. When it's good, it's really, really good -- among these wonderful moments are meeting a China Doll Girl (who provides some of the best scenes throughout) and some of the conversations between the money and his master. The atmosphere goes from richness to creepy, ghostly woods and just when it's getting good again... the flying bubbles brought me crashing back to earth. The cast ranges from excellent to overly hammy and downright dreadful.
Much has been said about this film's sexism and from a modern standpoint, these arguments do carry some weight. The female characters are under-developed and their stories revolve completely around a man! The things he is eventually rewarded for and redeemed from are punished in their characters' eventual fates (farce, deceit, and manipulation). One of them falls from grace out of jealousy that he favors another. None of their back history is explained, which is a shame since that would have made a far more powerful film. Yet, there's also religious symbolism involved in certain elements of the script, such as truth coming with one taste of an apple, but the consequences are hideousness and evil. So, there is both good and bad in the film's messages.
Disappointment in the lack of female character development left me feeling cold, yet the little girl buried deep inside had fun watching it and revisiting a world I've known since childhood in new and exciting ways. This is the origin story not only of the "fake" Wizard of Oz, but also of a certain evil witch, and even of the Scarecrow. (The only thing missing is an explanation about a pair of ruby slippers, which sadly Disney wasn't allowed to do.) It's a fun, albeit at times overly juvenile, way to spend a couple of hours. But after years of listening to the magnificence that is the musical Wicked! (also a terrific "origins story" revolving around Oz), my feminine-lead-and-villain-development-loving heart wishes a few things had been done differently.
Cleavage on some of the gowns. A man kisses several women. It's unclear whether or not he spent the night with one (they kiss and dance, then are shown the next morning walking down the yellow brick road).
One mild profanity.
Witches electrocute one another, blast each other through windows, and unleash flying apes on innocent bystanders.
Witches use magic against one another and to transform themselves, including a giant crystal ball. There is talk of "good magic," and "bad magic." Some scenes in which characters are being chased and/or confronted by hideous creatures may frighten young children.